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CNN BREAKING NEWS
U.S.-U.K. Cargo Plane Security Alert; International Security Alert; Yemini Government Announced Full-Scale Investigation into Package Incident; Travelers Warned to Expect Small Security Delays
Aired October 29, 2010 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks very much, Tony.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you.
GORANI: Well, as Tony mentioned there, it's a worldwide story. You're with us on CNN and CNN International. We're talking about security alerts in London, in Gulf countries such as the UAE and Dubai, in particular, in Chicago, in Newark, in New York, this according to sources we've spoken to, based on specific intelligence that cargo planes might have been used to send suspicious packages from Yemen to the United States via, in the case of a UPS plane, London.
We have been given the all-clear at the East Midlands Airport. That's in the United Kingdom. We've also been given the all-clear in Newark, New Jersey, where investigators were with examining a UPS plane there. There are still several planes being looked at in the United Kingdom. In particular, at a London airport, a UPS cargo plane was found to contain a package, a toner cartridge, that could be suspicious. Right now, we don't have confirmation either way as to whether or not explosive traces were found on that package.
T.J. Holmes is here. Hi, there.
T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. We have all been thrown into this as we've been watching over the past couple of hours. And to our viewers here, we're keeping a live picture up what's happening at Philadelphia. Also Newark, we're keeping an eye on, and also in Chicago.
It's important for our viewers to know, to understand here, we're talking about cargo planes. Now, that doesn't mean the danger is any less necessarily or the threat is any less. But still it is important to note we're talking about -- not talking about commercial air travel right now. We're talking about cargo planes that are being looked at. But important because it seems as if, going by some of the security analysts we're talking to, it's possible that there are literally terrorists trying to ship -- trying to ship explosive devices possibly to the U.S. that would be used in Chicago.
Now, this is what's going on here. If you haven't been following, we'll just give you an update here. U.S. officials are checking. These cargo flights coming from Yemen. Now, as far as we can tell right now, no package has been brought to the U.S. just yet. It was caught somewhere else, in the U.K., before anything got to the U.S. So no confirmation that anything made it to the U.S. But still, in the U.K. they did get a hold of at least one suspicious device.
Newark, we're talking about, has been given the all-clear right now. But again, alerts have been prompted by the U.K. officials' discovery of that suspicious package on a U.S.-bound flight. So for our U.S. viewers, at least, the concern that possibly Chicago being a target.
But right now, again, an all-clear in a couple of places, but still a -- like you said, Hala, an international story of concern right now, a security threat that goes right now from Yemen to U.K. to the U.S.
GORANI: Right. But several airports now saying, Look, we've looked at these cargo planes. There is no danger here as far as the airport is concerned, as far as the plane is concerned.
And Nic Robertson, our senior international correspondent, is in London. Nic, what London airport are we talking about here for this UPS plane that's being searched right now?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hala, this is known as East Midlands Airport, and it's about an hour-and-a-half drive north of London, right by the main highway that runs north/south in Britain, the M-1. There was a plane crash there about 20, 30 years ago now, that came down right next to the motorway. So that gives you an idea of where it's located on that main highway.
Right now, though, the cordon has been taken down there. The police are saying that the investigation is over. But the investigation there has been focused on a distribution center, a package distribution center, a generic distribution center, they say, where many different airlines and postal services use this distribution center.
And what police are telling us now is that this suspect package was found in the distribution center, not on an aircraft, but it's not clear to them right now exactly how this package arrived at the distribution center, by air on another aircraft, by road is a possibility they're raising right now. But what they are indicating is that all the searches that they've had to put in place there, all the security measures they've had to take, they're taking all those down right now, Hala.
GORANI: So how many planes are we talking about? We have the East Midlands Airport. Is there a London airport, as well, involved in of this, in this security scare?
ROBERTSON: It appears to be East Midlands is the focus of this. Sources that we've talked to have indicated this has been the airport that has sort of stimulated this broader search that we're now seeing under way in Philadelphia and Newark, Hala.
GORANI: And the package, as you mentioned there, in a distribution center, not on any aircraft. ROBERTSON: That's correct. And what searches -- and what has precipitated or exactly what is sort of leading the search at the moment is where other -- other packages that have come from the same address or company in Yemen as this suspect package discovered at East Midlands Airport. That is sort of what's leading to the check on other specific packages. We're being told that it is just a small number of other packages that are out there, but it is all linked to the same company or premises that sent out the package that was discovered at East Midlands Airport, Hala.
BROWN: All right, Nic Robertson in London. Thanks.
HOLMES: All right, want to bring our in Susan Candiotti, who has been in New York for us, New York the other place that's been playing a role in what we're seeing today -- Philadelphia, Newark airports, but also, Susan, we've been reporting about a suspicious package possibly that was on board a UPS truck there. Where are we getting the all-clears right now?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're getting the all-clears in both locations, both in Brooklyn, New York, by the NYPD, New York Police Department, as well as in Newark, New Jersey, at the international airport, from authorities there. Both locations are being told the incident is over with and an all-clear alert has been given, as well.
So let's recap what happened in both places. First of all, let's start with Newark. We know from these other incidents that they had heightened security alerts at Newark International Airport. In fact, we're looking at -- they were looking at a UPS plane that landed there, that had come from overseas as part of the investigation that they were conducting in Philadelphia, and other planes that had landed coming in via Yemen to London, et cetera, et cetera. So they were looking for any possible suspicious packages aboard that UPS flight.
It turns out, they didn't find any, but they looked very hard to make sure that there was nothing odd about the cargo aboard that flight. And they moved it away to an isolated area at that airport. They looked it over. UPS told us that they were fully cooperating with this investigation. It turned out all right.
Separate and apart from that, but at about the same time, we heard that the New York Police Department was looking into a UPS truck, again some similarities there, and looking specifically at a suspicious package that might have contained explosive material aboard that UPS truck.
Now, initially, police told us they thought they -- they had a wrong address. They went to Queens, New York, near one of the bridges there, the Queensboro Bridge. But eventually, they were led to the correct area, which was in Brooklyn, New York, at a corporate center there called Metro Tech. The bomb squad was brought in. They examined the package, and again they found nothing suspicious about it, and that all-clear sign was given there, as well.
However, when we asked the New York Police Department whether there was any connection and link between the heightened states of alert at Newark International Airport and the plane at Philadelphia's airport, we were given a "No comment" whether there was any connection between those two -- or among those three, I should say. So we're still trying to find out more information about that, T.J.
HOLMES: All right, Susan, we know you are on it. We appreciate you. We'll continue to check in.
I want to bring in also -- Larry Johnson on the line with us. He's a former State Department counterterrorism official.
Larry, thank you for hopping on the line here with us. What are we supposed to make -- what can you make of what we're seeing today? Is this a lot of abundance of caution, or is there something to what we are seeing today?
LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL (via telephone): Basically, it's shows that we have a flat learning curve as a country. I mean, look, we -- it's 21 years since the bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1989, and we've known for a long, long time that there's always the potential for explosives to be introduced in cargo aircraft and even on passenger airplanes. And yet we have consistently refused to put into place any comprehensive system.
Now, frankly, I think -- you know, I think the threat here is greatly overblown. It's probably being -- it's an overreaction to some questionable intelligence. But we wouldn't be doing this if we would simply put in place a system that is quite technologically feasible and possible to identify and detect explosives that could cause harm, that could cause a catastrophic decompression in the sky.
So you know, I guess I get a little frustrated with this because, you know, we went through this when we had the Abdulmutallab underwear pants bomber. You know, everybody's up in arms. And you know, we want -- it goes through cycles, like, every two or three years. So I'm -- I've become somewhat of a cynic, a skeptic, and just, you know, completely puzzled that we refuse to learn anything from previous incidents.
GORANI: Larry, you're saying this might be an overreaction to questionable intelligence. What makes you say that, based on what we know?
JOHNSON: Well, just the fact nothing's blown up, for starters. And secondly, nobody's found any explosives.
JOHNSON: So the fact that there's --
GORANI: But we're still waiting for test results at this point.
JOHNSON: Well, but you know, this is the kind of thing that -- it's like pornography. You know it when you see it.
GORANI: Right. And you don't see it. JOHNSON: Yes, you're not seeing it. And the fact that it's, you know, being handled like the sledgehammer killing the fly --
JOHNSON: -- where, you know, you're starting to pull everything down across the board. Now, understand, I'm not saying that these folks, you know, particularly with the Islamic extremists that are operating out of Yemen -- that they don't represent a threat. But what we saw in the case with Abdulmutallab, the underwear pants bomber, they clearly did not know what they with were doing because the amount of explosives that were on that guy would not have brought the plane down. It would have certainly done damage to his nether regions, and you know, killed him. But -- and so I don't take comfort in that. It gives me small comfort that they don't know what they're doing.
But the fact of the matter is, we have the potential, the technology, at least to interrogate packages and suitcases for the explosives that could cause a risk to commercial aircraft and cargo aircraft, and we've refused to put the system in place. We've refused to devote the resources to it. And we always wait until there's some, you know, incident and then people get their hair on fire, start running around in circles, screaming. And then it goes away, and then, you know, we do nothing.
HOLMES: Larry, you certainly sound frustrated. Don't go too far. We've got a couple more questions we certainly want to ask you, but we need to head to the White House here in a second, or right now. Dan Lothian is keeping an eye on this for us. Dan headed first from (ph) the White House, and you are hearing from the administration now, Dan. What are they saying?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: -- had told me earlier today that the White House had been closely monitoring the situation. Now White House spokesman Robert Gibbs putting out a statement saying -- and it's a little lengthy, so bear with me now as I read it from my BlackBerry.
"Last night, intelligence and law enforcement agencies discovered potential suspicious packages on two planes in transit to the United States. Based on close cooperation among U.S. government agencies and with our foreign allies and partners, authorities were able to identify and examine two suspicious packages, one in London and one in Dubai. Both of these packages originated from Yemen. As a result of security precautions triggered by this threat, additional measures were taken regarding the flights at Newark Liberty and Philadelphia International Airports."
It goes on to say, "The president was notified of a potential terrorist threat on Thursday night at 10:30 by John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. The president directed U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies and the Department of Homeland Security to take steps to ensure the safety and security of the American people and to determine whether these threats are part of any additional terrorist plotting. The president has received regular updates from his national security team since he was alerted to the threat."
I should point out that the administration has for quite some time been saying that these are the kinds of things that terrorists will continue to try to do, to try to break through the security net that's being established by U.S. security, to go after the American people. This is one of the things that's driving the strategy in Afghanistan, trying to root out terrorism there. This, again, appears to be another -- a potential threat facing the United States. Back to you, T.J.
HOLMES: All right, Dan, we appreciate you, as always. Appreciate the update. We'll continue to check in with you at the White House.
GORANI: All right, Allan Chernoff is in Philadelphia. He has new information from FedEx. We know that the security searches have been on UPS planes, but FedEx, of course, an international carrier, as well. What are they telling you, Allan? All right, we lost Allan Chernoff there.
Will Geddes, however, is standing by in London. He's a security analyst. Will, nice talking to you again. What do you make of what's going on? We had a former counterrorism official from the State Department here in the United States say, You know what? There's maybe a bit of overreaction here. Do you agree?
WILL GEDDES, SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's a difficult one to say, Hala. I mean, it's very early days. We have very limited information about exactly what was contained on these various planes. I think we have to take it seriously because of where these planes actually originated from. And you're talking Yemen, which is a country of high activity of al Qaeda supporters, that's been having a lot of domestic problems with al Qaeda, and a lot of other threats have originated from the territory. So at the moment, yes, we've got to be cautious about speculating until we know exactly what was contained on these planes.
GORANI: All right. Well, what do you make of what we know so far, though? We have several planes in the United States being looked at. We have that plane in the East Midlands. The package itself was not being looked at on the plane but at a distribution center. What do you make of all of this?
GEDDES: Well, to me, it smacks a lot of a possible trial run or a dummy run. We know that the various terrorist cells will undertake sort of advanced reconnaissance. They will see and test run, if you like, various possible routes or attacks that they're seeking to achieve.
Now, the fact that they've gone through a carrier company like UPS, obviously, is kind of interesting because it throws some questions in the air as to whether they're being as stringent about their security protocols as, say, the commercial airlines. Now, there is every possibility that, certainly, once we get more information about these devices -- and again, I am speculating -- that possibly this was an advance run or a reconnaissance run. GORANI: All right, Will Geddes, a security expert in London, thanks very much for being with us on this -- T.J.
HOLMES: And to our viewers, welcome to our viewers watching in the U.S. and also our viewers around the world right now. We are keeping an eye on a story of international interest, of security interest all over the world right now.
Quarter past the hour, what we know is that two suspicious devices, packages, were found aboard two flights that originated in Yemen and that where those two planes were headed towards the U.S. These are cargo planes we're talking about.
So now this has prompted U.S. officials to start checking cargo flights that have arrived at Newark airport in Newark, New Jersey, and also in Philadelphia. The intelligence says that, possibly, these devices could have been headed to Chicago to do damage there.
All-clear has been given right now at Newark International Airport, but still, these alerts have been prompted by U.S. officials' discovery of these suspicious packages aboard U.S.-bound flights. These are described as IEDs disguised as toner cartridges. We don't know at this point, even though some of the testing is going on, whether or not any explosive devices were actually on board these particular cargo flights.
You're seeing pictures right now of the devices themselves, again, disguised as toner cartridges, but built to be some kind of -- you're seeing a circuit there, what they call a circuit card, just that was aboard this particular toner cartridge. It looked like an IED, but again, the testing is going on. We don't know if anything explosive was actually aboard. I need to reiterate these are cargo flights we're talking about, UPS flights. These were not commercial airlines where passengers were on board.
But still, this has prompted many to speculate whether or not this was actually a test run, or if this possibly could have been, Hala, the real deal that was stopped ahead of time. But the testing, they say, goes on out in the field to see if explosives were there. They say that's unreliable (ph). I believe our Fran Townsend told us that a little earlier.
GORANI: There's going to be ample time for post-mortems on this, between Larry Johnson, the former counterterrorism official saying, Look, we may be overreacting, others saying not at all. This is part of the process, part of the system that's in place to check cargo planes, cargo planes originating especially from hot spots such as Yemen, and make sure that everything is safe.
Allan Chernoff is in Philadelphia -- in Philadelphia, where two UPS planes were checked. And we're talking about UPS planes. However, FedEx has some new information, and Allan can bring that to us. Hi, there, Allan.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): That's right, Hala. I'm in Philadelphia, at the airport, looking at those UPS planes. But the news I have actually deals with FedEx. I've been speaking with FedEx today, and they say that local authorities in Dubai confiscated a suspicious package at the company's facility there. The package originated in Yemen. It was not on a plane when it was confiscated, just at the FedEx facility, in the process of being transported through the FedEx system.
A company spokesperson, Laura Lane (ph), tells us, "We have embargoed all shipments originating from Yemen, and the company is cooperating fully with the authorities on this matter." Again, local authorities in Dubai were working in cooperation with the FBI -- Hala.
GORANI: And do they tell you -- did FedEx tell you why they decided to do this now, look at this now? Is it as a result of the security alert/security scare on these UPS planes?
CHERNOFF: This is all part of the same thing, apparently. I mean, it's not because of the UPS necessarily. FedEx obviously also a global shipping company. And they clearly -- the FBI sent out an alert to local authorities in Dubai, apparently were able to track a suspicious package. They took it out of the FedEx system, and it is being analyzed. So it is a global situation here. And again, they did say that they are embargoing all shipments from Yemen right now.
GORANI: From Yemen to Dubai to Newark to Philadelphia, where you are. What do we know about those two UPS cargo planes that were being checked? We know the all-clear has been given in Newark. What about Philadelphia?
CHERNOFF: Well, still on the scene here. The hazmat crews are on the tarmac. I saw firefighters also entering the tarmac area. So there's one UPS plane at one far end of the tarmac that I'm looking at, and across the other end is another one. They're pretty much sitting on their own, no activity, just -- the door open and just sitting there. Beyond that, we can't speculate further.
GORANI: All right, thanks, Allan Chernoff, reporting live there from Philadelphia.
HOLMES: All right, Hala, we want to bring back in Fran Townsend, who's been helping us along this afternoon the past couple of hours as we try to break down what is happening here.
We want to ask you, as well, Fran -- we heard from Larry Johnson, another intelligence official, former terrorism official with the government, saying this could be right now an overreaction to some shaky intelligence that the U.S. got. But he also complained, and he sounded angry in talking to us, that, You know what? We could have put stuff, our government, in place a long time ago to prevent such things and to better screen cargo that's trying to come into the U.S. What is your reaction to some of what he had to say?
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, in fairness to Larry, T.J., I mean, he was offering opinion, but he wasn't suggesting he had spoken to anybody or had sources inside the government. I think we do need to be clear there are two very distinct things going on here. There was the package in the Midlands, at the Midlands airport, and there was the package in Dubai. Those two packages were focused on specifically because of a tip from a foreign intelligence ally. So the focus in London and Dubai was based on very specific intelligence.
You've shown viewers pictures of the one device that was taken off the plane in London, the toner cartridge. You're looking at circuit boards, powder, wires. I'm told that they were with concerned about a potential for a liquid detonator that would have included a syringe. And so there's some very specific intelligence there, and you can understand why the focus in Dubai and London.
Now let's switch for a second. What was going on on the cargo planes in Philadelphia, the two in Philadelphia, the one you in Newark? That was more generalized. Once they realized they had these two packages of concern in London and Dubai coming from Yemen, working with international shippers -- FedEx, DHL, UPS -- they decided out of precaution to look at those packages that were currently in transit that originated from Yemen. That's exactly what we need them to do.
It's unfortunate that it causes the disruption, but you can imagine if they knew about these two specific packages based on intelligence and they didn't do that and something happened, you'd think them incompetent, frankly. And so I think security officials are doing exactly what they need to do to protect the American people.
HOLMES: Well, and Fran, one more to you here. And this is for viewers, for American citizens, for folks in Chicago who are hearing now that possibly these packages were headed towards their city. I mean, we can tell you with pretty good confidence if someone, in fact, did want to send these packages into the U.S., they weren't necessarily trying to blow up a cargo plane. These were for someone -- I might be getting ahead of myself here, but we can assume these packages were meant for someone here in the U.S. Is that fair to say?
TOWNSEND: It is, T.J. What sources are telling us now is that the two packages, the one in Dubai and the one in London, were headed to Chicago, synagogues in Chicago. We haven't been told, we haven't been able to find out what ones, what the addresses were. But the intelligence was at least that specific, that they were -- that U.S. officials had been told they were headed to synagogues in Chicago.
HOLMES: All right. Fran, we appreciate you. I know you're not going to go too far. I know you're working the phone for us, as well. Thank you. We'll chat with you here again in a second -- Hala.
GORANI: All right, and Fran mentioned there that information was handed over to Jewish organizations. We understand that security officials called the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago Friday, and they urged that organization to be on alert if any suspicious packages are sent to them, to make sure to be alert and careful with whatever they receive, and of course, not open any packages they haven't been expecting, that kind of thing.
Nic Robertson is in London with more and new information on what we know about the East Midlands Airport security alert -- Nic.
ROBERTSON: Yes, a little more, Hala, coming to us from British intelligence sources who say that a number of different packages have been found, the one that we know about here at East Midlands and others at other locations, Middle East and Europe. We're working to determine and confirm some of those locations.
But one of the interesting details to come from this intelligence source is that these packages were sent by one person. Once that package was discovered at the East Midlands Airport, that then triggered an investigation as to who sent it, what other packages that person may have sent. That led to the discovery of some of those other packages.
This person, when people have looked at who he is, they said this is somebody in Yemen who is known to be connected with terrorism, in terrorist circles in Yemen. So that's another piece of information we're learning here.
Also, this British intelligence source goes on to tell us more information that runs concurrent with what we've been hearing, as well, that these devices were made up to look like IEDs, improvised explosive devices. The one thing that they all lacked was explosives. But according to this source, they were viable devices. If the explosives had been there, then they could have caused explosions.
Obviously, that opens up many different issues. Could explosives have been added later? Is this a very heavy, implicit threat of what could come in the future? Is it a dry run? All of these different angles, as we've heard Fran and others say, are being looked at. But these devices that have been sent now, a number of devices sent from one person in Yemen known to be connected with terrorism -- Hala.
GORANI: That's interesting. So they were actually able -- I mean, the person who sent this package via UPS actually wrote down their name? I mean, presumably, it could be a false name. But they're able to trace all the way back to the person or persons who sent this package?
ROBERTSON: That's the implication of what we're being told at the moment from a British intelligence source who's familiar with what has happened and unfolded at the British Midlands airport today, Hala, yes.
GORANI: All right, Nic Robertson live in London. Thanks very much, Nic. We'll be getting back to Nic, who's been following this story from the United Kingdom and that security scare at East Midlands Airport.
HOLMES: All right. We continue to keep an eye on what's happening here in the U.S. and around the world right now after a security -- what is still on ongoing security situation involving cargo planes, where suspicious packages were found. You're seeing, just to give you an idea there of where this story now reaches, from the U.K., Dubai, Yemen, Philadelphia, Newark, and also Chicago you can throw in there as being a part of this story, as well. But suspicious packages found aboard two flights, two cargo planes, that were meant for the U.S.
Now, those were stopped before they actually got to the U.S., those suspicious packages being investigated elsewhere, other than the U.S. right now, but still, it prompted officials in the U.S. to take a look at a couple of planes, a couple of cargo planes, UPS, that have come into the country. So this has involved Philadelphia and also Newark International Airport.
I believe I do have Congressman Ed Markey on the line with me now, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who has been one -- has been an advocate for tighter screening aboard passenger planes, at least, to some of the cargo that goes aboard passenger planes.
Mr. Markey, thank you for being here. Again, you have been an advocate for checking all cargo on passenger planes. We're talking about cargo planes here now. What are your thoughts about what you've been seeing in this coverage today?
REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS (via telephone): Well, on 9/11, al Qaeda targeted four planes in the United States. We know that al Qaeda continues to keep aviation at the very top of their terrorist target list. So today what we see, nine years after 9/11, is a success story, an international cooperation that has identified a risk very early, and because of that, able to remove the risk, if it is real, to anyone in the United States or the U.K.
And obviously, that's a big change from nine years ago, and it is something that I think we should be really quite proud of because it's clear that the Obama administration, building upon what happened in earlier administrations, coupled with other countries, has a system in place now that can identify risk very early in the process.
HOLMES: Well, Congressman Markey, it sounds like you're saying this is an example of the system working, even though there are some security analysts that say more needs to be done still. How much more can be done? We do focus so much on commercial passenger travel and those planes that passengers actually get on. But is this going to be a threat now we need to pay more attention to, cargo planes?
MARKEY: Well, cargo planes obviously do not pose threats to passengers, which was our first priority post-9/11. But again, this gives us another aperture into the thinking, potentially, of al Qaeda at least in terms of how they might try to transport dangerous items into the United States using cargo planes themselves.
And so the truth is that we should probably look even more closely at this area, to tighten up even more, if possible. But at the same time, let's tip our cap because this was a success story. They identified it very early in the chain, and they were successful. So with all, you know -- you know, due regard for the need to try to be ever more vigilant in the future, this was a day here where we have to give credit internationally to all who partnered with the United States to thwart this effort.
HOLMES: All right, Congressman Markey, before we let you go, I know you as well have plenty of intelligence sources and people you talk to behind the scenes, but is there anything you can add to this story that you have gotten? Information about what we've been seeing today?
MARKEY: I cannot do that at this time except to say that it's -- it's basically to the American people a statement of how far we have come since 9/11 and we've identified it far offshore. In Boston on 9/11, we had Mohammed Attah and nine others who boarded those two planes that flew into the World Trade Center, and I think the protections that were put in place on passenger planes and here in cargo planes is something that should give the American public some real reassurance.
HOLMES: You said a statement of how far we've come, but is it also a statement that we are still at risk?
MARKEY: Al Qaeda is intent on striking within the United States once again. That is their highest goal. They do believe that if they can prove that we are vulnerable domestically that they can send a signal to the rest of the world that they are on the offensive and can hurt us.
And so, what happened today is a big success story because we have are kept them on the defensive and we have identified this threat very early on the perimeter by having a strong defense against their ability to penetrate our security.
HOLMES: All right, Congressman Markey, we appreciate you this afternoon. Thanks so much.
GORANI: A new development, T.J.
U.S. Officials are telling CNN that they believe al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula is behind this plot, which could be a dry run, according many of the intelligence officials and security analysts we've spoken to, with toner cartridges being used to ship IEDs disguised as toner cartridges in cargo planes.
The latest that we're getting from the United Kingdom from our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is that a number of items have been removed from a cargo plane there at East Midlands Airport. Now that's not near London, it's about an hour and a half away from London.
It was a UPS flight from Yemen, it was bound for Chicago via Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It had just made that routine stop in the East Midlands Airport. and security personnel as well as Scotland Yard, that's the police in the United Kingdom, are looking at suspicious packages they believe were sent from Yemen from an individual in Yemen. And these are the UPS offices there.
We'll have a lot more there on this worldwide security scare involving several planes in the United States and in the U.K. as well and in Dubai after this break.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HOLMES: All right, 35 minutes past the hour. Welcome back. T.J. Holmes here along with Hala Gorani, my colleague from CNN International.
And we are broadcasting across the U.S. and across the world right now because we are looking at a worldwide security situation right now having to do with cargo planes that two suspicious packages were found aboard.
These planes originated in Yemen, made stops in the U.K. and also Dubai where the packages were found. Those planes then moved on their way to the U.S. where officials here in the U.S. are now checking out those planes for an abundance of caution.
We're just getting from CNN sources or officials, sources telling us that they believe, that the U.S. believes, al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula is behind these suspicious packages.
To give you an idea of these packages, these were toner cartridges, at least disguised to be toner cartridges, that were with actually improvised explosive devices they've been described as, certainly suspicious packages that had circuits on them, wires coming from them.
They are being tested the right now. You're seeing pictures of them, but they're being tested. We don't know if actually explosives devices -- or excuse me, or any explosives were actually a part of this. Some describing this as possibly a trial run, a test run, by terrorists to see if maybe they can could get these things in and maybe then later the real deal would take place.
But that is where we are right now. We are, Hala, starting to get the all-clear at some places. But still, a security situation that goes -- that spans, right now, the globe.
GORANI: Yes, and what's interesting is we're talking about Yemen where these planes originated from. Yemen is, of course, a big cause of concern for the United States because in many ways it has a very weakened central government, it has many lawless areas where al Qaeda elements have been able to organize themselves. We've seen other plots in the past that were hatched there. Other leaders of al Qaeda units and cells in Yemen organizing plots and talking about attacks against western targets and against U.S. targets.
So it's very interesting to see that it's Yemen and special operations units from the United States are present in Yemen with the cooperation of the government there in order to try to find ways to combat, I guess, these terrorists, these extremist elements that are trying to reorganize themselves inside of Yemen. Yemen being right in the Arabian peninsula under Saudi Arabia.
Let's go to Susan Candiotti. She's in New York and she has more information on UPS planes that were checked in Newark.
I understand the all-clear in Newark. What about other locations in New York, Susan? SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. In addition to that location in Newark, at Newark International Airport, where they gave an all-clear sign after looking into a cargo plane there that they deemed to be suspicious, the other thing they were looking at involved a UPS truck that they discovered -- originally, the police department went to the wrong address in Queens but then wound up in Brooklyn, New York -- and a corporate office center called MetroTech.
Now, they took a look at what they called a suspicious package that appeared to contain an explosive device that was aboard or contained on that UPS truck. The New York Bomb Squad was involved, the FBI was involved. The New York Bomb Squad examined the suspicious package and found nothing to be worried about inside of it.
In fact, we are told by New York's police commissioner, Ray Kelly, that the box contained some check stubs. Check stubs, that's all it was inside of there. Now, possibly there's been explanation for that because there are some, in fact, very famous bank, Chase Bank, is located in that center. We don't know where the stubs came from, but there might possibly be a link there.
Now, we also asked the police commissioner what, if any, connection there may have been to these other incidents at the other airport in Newark as well as in Philadelphia where they're also checking out a cargo plane, and he said the connection seems to be linkage among the packages originating in Yemen.
However, I was told a short time ago by a Yemeni official based in Washington, D.C. who emphasized there are no direct UPS flights, he says, that come from Yemen to the U.K. or to the United States, and he insists that any reports to the contrary are erroneous, are simply wrong.
Now, whether a UPS package, I asked, could have been placed upon a plane later on from a flight that originated, some other flight that originated in Yemen, is unclear.
This Yemeni official did say that they've been on a heightened state of alert at all of their airports since that Christmas Eve incident, you will recall, where there is now involving an accused would-be bomber that had placed explosives, according to authorities, inside his underwear and he was on a flight that was about to land in Detroit.
You remember he has been charged in that case. That gentleman came from Yemen and, in fact, that's why security has been heightened there. And the official said that they continue to work with all of their regional partners including the U.K. and the United States to make sure everything is as safe as it can be in Yemen.
Back to you.
GORANI: All right, thanks very much, Susan Candiotti there in New York.
Just recapping for our viewers, this worldwide security scare involving cargo planes, not commercial aircraft. So these of course not the planes we all travel on around the world.
But U.S. officials interestingly saying they believe that at this stage, at this very early stage, which is interesting, that al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula is behind this plot, which some analysts and experts have said might be a dry run to disguise IEDs inside of toner cartridges, though it's important to underline there's no traces of explosive devices have you according to the preliminary tests conducted on these ink cartridges that were sent through UPS, inside of UPS parcels from Yemen.
HOLMES: And from what we know right now, the word is that these devices or these planes at least, these cargo planes, were headed to Chicago. And at some point in Chicago they were supposed to be distributed out to who knows whom. At this point, we don't know who was supposed to receive them on this end, if you will, and that they were with possibly going to be used to target synagogues in Chicago.
Now members of the Jewish community have actually been alerted to this in Chicago. They were aware of it and they were being told to be on the lookout, to be vigilant and make sure if you see anything suspicious, you need to alert authorities. That word has been going around Chicago.
No word right now that any suspicious package actually got into the United States, but an abundance of caution being taken right now by officials in the U.S. to check out these flights, to check out these cargo planes that did land in Newark and also landed in Philadelphia.
This having to do with UPS planes right now, but FedEx also and other international carriers are also taking part. FedEx actually saying they are stopping right now all the packages coming from the U.N., that they are going to check out and give a higher level of scrutiny at this point.
So this is starting certainly to blossom out and effect more and more companies and it will affect more and more people. But again, important to note we are talking about cargo planes.
Turn to Chris Lawrence who is at the Pentagon for us right now. Chris, we are getting from a source that officials believe, in fact, this was the work of al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula. What else are you hearing in that regard? And why they're thinking at this point that, in fact, al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula is responsible?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, T.J., just to your first point, a defense official that I just spoke with says that he now feels and the consensus here at the Pentagon is that Yemen has become, quote, "a destination of choice" for al Qaeda leadership. And that even though he believes the Yemeni government and U.S. forces are doing a lot of work to try to put down al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula there, he says what they're seeing is a growing migration of al Qaeda leaders to Yemen and there is a great concern that Yemen is becoming a safe haven for al Qaeda plots launched overseas.
It sort of reflects what we heard directly from Yemen's foreign minister not even a year ago when he put the number at about 300 al Qaeda fighters in Yemen he says planning terrorist activities overseas.
To that end, Yemen has been somewhat underfunded by the U.S. when compared to the amount of aid that the U.S. gives to certain other countries in that area of the world, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates did authorize about $150 million earlier this year to train and equip some of the Yemeni forces specifically to go after and fight al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula. That more than doubled the amount that say the U.S. military authorized for Yemen last year.
We're also told that the U.S. Special Forces, while a small role, that role is expanding in Yemen. A defense official with knowledge of the counterterrorism fight there says he describes it as a more complex sort of training of the Yemeni forces involving air support coordinated with ground tactical maneuvers, again all designed to go after al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula -- T.J.
HOLMES: Chris, is this something -- I know Yemen has been in the headlines a lot over the past couple of years. People remember the USS Cole bombing some 10-plus years ago now, but after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, with his connections to Yemen, Yemen has been back in the headlines, if you will, and has been a target for the U.S., at least for the security threat there, the terrorist threat.
But has this been on the radar -- you cover the Pentagon there -- but has this been on the radar in particular, the possibility of cargo planes being used to carry something into the U.S., that someone here in the U.S. would receive? Is this something that has been on their radar?
LAWRENCE: Depends what you mean by on the radar. There are groups here at the Pentagon that sort of game plan any number of scenarios in which a terrorist or weapons could reach the United States. I've never heard anybody specifically say toner cartridge, you know, disguised as a toner cartridge or anything to that extent on specifically a UPS plane or anything like that. But, again, a lot of these are scenarios that are sort of game planned by some of the people here at the Pentagon as to things they need to look out for.
HOLMES: All right. Chris Lawrence for us at the Pentagon. Chris, we appreciate you.
And as I bring Hala Gorani in here, and we had this question, and you wrote a little note here. It's curious. Is the U.S. talking to Yemen right now? It seems as if they are right now. More information we're getting.
GORANI: That Yemen is promising an investigation at this point. It would be interesting to hear from our sources as well in the Arabian peninsula, who were also working this story, what precisely is being discussed with security personnel and the ministry of defense in Yemen. That is, of course, charged with fighting those al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula elements that are in some parts of the country that the government of Yemen does not necessarily control all that well.
The Department of Homeland Security has issued a statement saying that passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers. Jeanne Meserve is in Washington and has more on the response that we're seeing from many U.S. departments as a result of this security alert.
Hi there, Jeanne.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Hala, looking at this statement that's just been issued by the Department of Homeland Security, they say some of these new security measures will be visible, others will not be. The public may recognize specific enhancements, including heightened cargo screening, additional security at airports. Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers. That includes explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, K-9 teams and pat-downs, among others. As always, we remind the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to local law enforcement.
I can tell you, Hala, that I spent all morning at Reagan National Airport doing stories on a new pat-down regime that the TSA is phasing in, unrelated as far as we know to this -- today's events. We didn't notice any increased security at Reagan National earlier this morning, even though we've been told that the White House, the president, was aware of this security situation last evening.
Also, I've just gotten off the phone with John O'Connor, the chief of security for Amtrak. He tells me that they are aware of the situation, they're monitoring it. They've been in touch with the FBI. At this point, they do not perceive any risk to the rails. But they are continuing their usual level of security with K-9 patrols and the rest. So, that's the latest on the security front from here. Hala?
GORANI: OK, Jeanne Meserve in Washington, thanks very much.
I want to welcome our viewers from CNN International who normally would be watching the International Desk right now. It's pleasure to be here with my colleague -
HOLMES: Good to have you.
GORANI: -- from CNN U.S.A.
Well, here's what we know so far, T.J. And it's this worldwide security alert involving all these airports in the United States and as well as in the Arabian Gulf and London as well with several cargo planes being checked right now.
HOLMES: And again, we're talking about cargo planes here. But you see the reach of the security scare we're having right now. But these planes, these cargo planes originated from Yemen with stops in the UK and also in Dubai. A suspicious package was found aboard each. These are described as toner cartridges, or at least the suspicious devices that were made to look like toner cartridges. They're being checked out to see if they have any explosive materials. Right now, that is not the case. They have not been able to find any explosive materials. But still, this sparked a scare. So, as those planes went on from Yemen without those packages on them, they landed in Philadelphia, also in Newark. Out of an abundance of caution, security officials in the U.S. decided they wanted to check these planes out.
Once again, these planes were bound for Chicago. Chicago is aware. The Jewish community has been put on alert. They were told to be on the lookout for suspicious packages or any other suspicious activity around their synagogues because, according to sources, telling us that possibly synagogues in the Chicago area were possibly the target of these suspicious devices.
Sources telling us also that U.S. officials believe that al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula in Yemen, in fact, responsible for this scare we are seeing today. But the investigation continues, even though, Hala, we have gotten the all-clear in a couple of places. Newark, at least one of them. I believe in Midlands as well we got an all-clear. But still this has major implications.
GORANI: In the East Midlands Airport there in the United Kingdom, the package that is being tested was not aboard the airport. It had already made its way to the distribution center. In Scotland Yard, the police in the United Kingdom are saying they're still looking at that, trying to figure out who sent it because they have a name on that package, T.J. Of course, the probability that it is not a fake name, all those type of details, will be coming in throughout the next few hours and the few days.
But it's interesting to note where these packages came from and that is Yemen. And a big, huge cause for concern for the United States and other Western countries because Yemen, in many parts of Yemen, really the central government has no control. And al Qaeda on the Arabian peninsula, which a few U.S. officials say they believe al Qaeda might be behind this particular plot, which could be a dry run. Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula has found a foothold in Yemen, which is south of Saudi Arabia.
So, the story continues to develop but as far as passengers are concerned, expect more security at airports.
HOLMES: Even though we're talking about cargo planes here, there's still any time you talk about air travel of any kind, any threats to planes, certainly passengers, you're going to be affected out there even more.
Now, we're talking about Yemen here. Yemen has been the target, if you will, by a lot of scrutiny by U.S. officials and others around the world because as Hala just described there, the instability there. The instability of the government. Poverty is rampant there, unbelievably high literacy rate.
But just as our Chris Lawrence described a moment ago, it's the destination of choice, quite frankly, for a lot of terrorists, a lot of militants who want to be there to do training there and to go out and then spread that terror, if you have will.
Our Mohammed Jamjoon was in Yemen just a few weeks ago. Mohammed, though, is joining us on assignment where he is in Baghdad. Mohammed, let me bring you in here. I guess as you see this story unfold, not a big surprise to some that we are once again talking about Yemen.
MOHAMMED JAMJOON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, T.J. No surprise at all.
Let me just first update you with some new information we got. CNN spoke to a Yemeni diplomat in Washington D.C. just a few moments ago. And we're told the Yemeni government has launched a full-scale investigation into the incidents today with the cooperation of regional and international partners. That includes the U.S. and UK. They say it's still too early to tell what happened, and they're not going to speculate at this time.
But as you said, this is really no surprise. Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula has gotten a foothold in Yemen, especially over the course of the last year and a half. As you said, Yemen has become the perfect breeding ground.
It's a combination of factors. They've got very porous borders. It's a very poor country. Militants are attracted there because they feel they can get in there very quickly, they can get in there under the cover of darkness, they can cross the borders.
And because the central government there is a very weak one, they can't do much about it. Once the government tries to go out of Sanaa, which is the capital, tries to go into the more tribal areas. Places like Shabwa, is a stronghold for al Qaeda in Yemen. That's in the country south, they're really overmatched at that point.
The government depends on their affiliations with the tribes over there in order to stay in power, and many feel that it's the tribes in those regions sometimes protect those militants. They feel that they are resentful of the government with how the government has been dealing with them. It just becomes a much worse situation -- T.J.
HOLMES: All right. Mohammed Jamjoon for us. We appreciate you, Mohammed. Again coming to us from Baghdad. Thanks so much.
GORANI: All right. And just reminding our viewers that if you are expecting a quick, swift run through security today at the airport, you might be disappointed. The Department of Homeland Security saying security at airports has been heightened in the United States and security, an unexpected mix of security layers will be implemented.
HOLMES: All right. Quick break here. Hala and I will be right back. More continuing coverage of this worldwide security scare. Stay here.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GORANI: Getting close to the top of the hour here. Hello to you all. T.J. Holmes here with CNN U.S. And also with my colleague, Hala Gorani, from CNN International. We are broadcasting across the U.S. and across the world right now because we're dealing with a security scare involving cargo planes that does span the globe right now.
Get you caught up. This happened after a couple of cargo planes that originated in Yemen that were headed to the United States that stopped in UK and also in Dubai and they found a couple of suspicious packages. As described, suspicious packages. Some describe them as IEDs, these improvised explosive devices. But they were toner cartridges, or at least described to be toner cartridges that were. Supposed to be that. But there you go. You see the picture there.
But officials believe these were meant for the U.S., possibly heading to Chicago, where someone would receive them and then they would be used at synagogues. The Jewish community in Chicago has been put on alert and told to they need to watch out and keep their eye out for anything suspicious, any suspicious packages or suspicious goings on around synagogues in Chicago.
But this prompted U.S. officials to stop those planes once they got to the U.S. in Philadelphia and Newark to check them out out of an abundance of caution.
Hala, we're told now, and probably not a lot of surprise to a lot of people once they heard Yemen, that U.S. officials now believe al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula is responsible for what we're seeing today.
GORANI: Right. And our Fran Townsend is reporting that John Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, has been talking to the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, about this threat and how to address it.
The Yemeni government has promised a full-scale investigation into this. So, that is something of course that Yemeni officials want to assure the world about, that they have a handle on this problem in their country, that al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula has found a breeding ground. They want the world to know they are working on trying to investigate this and trying to put a stop to the activity taking place there. But Yemen has been mentioned quite a lot over the last few months and years, in fact, in the context of terrorism plots.
HOLMES: And it's important. We've been talking, Hala, for the past several hours here now, cargo planes, yes. We're not talking about the planes you and I, we all board, not the passenger planes here. But that still could have an effect if you are traveling.
All of this now -- we're getting a statement from the Department of Homeland Security that in fact you will see some enhanced security measures. They will be random. Maybe you'll notice them. Maybe you won't. But certainly your cargo, your bags might be under more scrutiny.
Our Chad Myers is joining us as well. Keeping an eye on this story. Chad, what can you tell us? Always interesting to see that map there. What are we seeing as far as air travel goes?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: About 6,300 airplanes on this map. That is a normal number for a Friday afternoon. Now, I can go in here and put DAL-star, and that will search all the Delta Airline flights. And I rarely - in fact, I have never done this before. But I put UPS-star to see how many UPS planes. Of 6,300, there's only four UPS planes in the sky?
Now, I don't know whether that's an odd number. It seems to me to be an odd number that only four planes are UPS planes, but then I talked to my producers and they said, wait. UPS flies at night. They move all their cargo at night with the airplane. So, maybe four is not an unusual number for the middle of the afternoon.
Something else I can call up, flight radar 24. I know it's kind of hard to see, but I'll kind of draw it for you. Here's Ireland. Here's the UK right there. And then here's France.
So, there are planes in the sky. It's getting dark out there now. This is obviously Europe, five, six hours later than us. And planes in the sky doing okay here.
And as we looked at all the airport delays, wow is this really messing up the airplanes? No. In fact, there are two airport delays, one Newark because of wind. and Baltimore just popping up increasing departure delays of 30 minute, but not because of any kind of security concerns. What we are hearing is that security lines to get through security may be a little bit longer than usual.
But you know what? On a Friday afternoon, they're going to be long anyway. So, if you're used to flying on Tuesday and all of a sudden you're in line and you're tweeting wow, these lines are really long, maybe they are, but maybe that's a normal Friday afternoon flight for you. And so plan just a couple of extra minutes at least to get through TSA security today.
HOLMES: A few extra minutes. We always account for a few extra minutes. Now we need to account for a few more extra minutes on top of those. Chad, we appreciate you, buddy.
And again, what he was referring to there, and again talking about cargo planes here. This is where these packages were found. But still cargo is one thing. But you, your cargo that you travel with on your passenger, your commercial flights could be affected as well. Department of Homeland Security telling folks you should expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advance imaging technology, K-9 teams, pat downs. You may not recognize some of these specific enhancement, but it's going to be there they are warning people.
GORANI: Friday night is already a busy night. It's long lines to get through security.
GORANI: Potentially expect them to be longer. However, we understand that out of 30,000 international flights, only 675 have been delayed 30 minutes or more.
It sounds like a better day than usual. So it can't be too bad in terms of delays internationally.
We are going to be speaking with our Richard Quest in just a few minutes there, who has more information on your flights around the world.